The Deadly Doll

The Deadly Doll

Did that catch your eye? Well, when I was ten, it caught mine too. At that time I thought I had read every book in the Cahuenga Branch library about dolls. Then I discovered the adult card catalog and found a book I hadn't read --"The Deadly Doll." I included it in my biweekly stack of ten books, but it was confiscated by a well-meaning librarian. It was some Perry Masonesque pulp novel.

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Time Flies

We are already a month and a day into "Beyond Ultraman." Not content to sit on our collective laurels, we are madly seeking other venues for the show because we can't stand the thought of the beautiful result of all our hard work ending in January! If you have any suggestions or insider connections to PS 1, the Cooper- Hewitt, or the Oakland Museum please let us know!

While we look around for another location for "Beyond Ultraman," we also ponder our next show. There are so many ideas in our files that it is difficult to focus sometimes, but we will probably let the opportunity of a venue guide us to our next project. We are considering an exploration of the "D" part of our acronym - but you can bet it won't be your grandmother's doll show... or maybe it will? Stay tuned.

Toy Catalogs Redux

The holidays have been sneaking up on us while we've been pre-occupied with the show opening and incumbent activity of promoting same. I have accumulated a stack of toy catalogs (they arrived early this year and almost bypassed me into the recycle bin). I thought it would be interesting to compare them to last year's selection to see what trends could be gleaned from the cover art and toy selections. (For last year's lineup look at the 11/13/06 blog entry - wow, exactly a year ago) Here is this year's report:

Young Explorers – Creative Educational Products
Page Count: 56
Cover Image: Two kids (boy and girl), both Caucasian (same as last year). The girl is hugging (hey, hey) Uglydolls, while the boy is playing with a magic set. Caption says, "Imagine, Create, Explore...Play!"
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $99.95 for a slot car set; lowest priced toy - $21.95 each for Uglydolls and a sticker machine.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $136.95 for a pirate ship and accessories; lowest priced toy - $29.95 for an alphabet to go play set. There is also an inset with a picture of a little girl (Caucasian, again). Interesting item for $34.95 - a bank called a "Money Hungry Monster" that eats money and says "Keep away from my money" when you try to remove money.

Met Kids - The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store
Page Count: 31
Cover Image: One kid (Caucasian girl) holding a paint palette.
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $48.00 for a wooden block set; lowest priced toy - $4.95 for Met Twist Crayons.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $75.00 for a...wall clock? Watches make up the rest of the product selection. No models on the back cover. (BTW - one Asian child and two African American kids appear within the catalog (out of 14 models total).

Hearth Song
Page Count: 88
Cover Image: No book illustration on the cover this year. A toy dominates the cover, but there is a blurry Caucasian child in the background.
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $32.98 for a Hokey Pokey Musical Skirt (it plays the song while you dance...); lowest priced toy - $9.98 for a chocolate advent calendar and a planting toy.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $49.98 for an exclusive musical tower made of wood and operated by marbles. One boy of unspecific cultural background on the back cover. For some strange reason they offer a real flower basket/arrangement on the back cover too. – Childhood Dreams Delivered
Page Count: 124
Cover Image: One Caucasian child sitting in front of a pristine fireplace (sans fire or any trace of soot).
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $99.99 (on sale from $159.99) Little Tikes Talking Train with Track. lowest priced toy - $14.99 for stuffed animals. Of note: $79.99 for Brian the Brain who acts as "an integrated speaker phone, personal assistant, motion sensor, interactive friend, dictionary, encyclopedia and much more." and $69.99 for Zillions Touch Screen ATM bank. (I need one of those Brians...)
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $69.99 for a Cheetah Girls Rockin' Tour Bus; lowest priced toy - $19.99 for a Hannah Montana doll or any one of four Cheetah girls. One Caucasian boy on the back cover.

Target Toys
Page Count: 51
Cover Image: One Caucasian girl holding a Caucasian baby doll.
Inside cover: Highest priced toy (the only toy on the inside cover)- $54.99 A programmable talking Macaw.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $49.99 for a Driving Force Land Rover; lowest priced toy - $19.99 for a Sing Along Spider-Man. One African American child on the back cover.

Toys R Us
Page Count: 72
Cover Image: Multicultural illustration of two girls (one African American one Caucasian) and one boy (could be Hispanic...)
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $189.99 (on sale from $229.99!) A Razor Electric Powered motor scooter; lowest priced toy - $29.99 Monopoly Pink Boutique Edition game.
Back cover: Only toy - $7.99 for a Jumbo Lounging Elmo (that price with any $50 purchase) One Caucasian girl on the back cover.

Archie McPhee still gets my vote for fun.
Page Count: 48
Cover Image: Zombies of indeterminate race.
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $15.95 World's Largest Underpants; lowest priced toy - $4.95 will buy you two sets of plastic ants, a giant wooden pencil, or a squirt cigarette pack.
Back cover: Ads for Yodeling Pickle, switchblade comb, crime scene bandages, sky-diving Sigmund Freud, glow-in-the-dark-skeleton pirates, and, of course, zombies.

Overall Comments:

Copy: Lots of information, but who cares. The layouts are so awful that it's hard to focus on copy. Models: Less attention to political correctness than ever. Maybe only white families can afford toys this year. Content: The main thing I noticed is that price points are much lower and the toys more modest this year, no doubt a reflection of the economy. Hence the toy ATM banks too.


LA Times Article

I almost forgot to include this back story. When I was interviewed by the LA Times reporter we talked of many things. Shana Ting Lipton apologized for asking me more questions than would be covered by the article (which BTW was included in the last LA Times Weekend Calendar format - more's the pity since that was the only reason I continued to take the LA Times home delivery - I LIKED the original Calendar format and hardly ever read the Sunday Times Calendar section). We spoke of many things, like biculturalism, parents, etc. At the end of the hour-long interview on my cell phone (which I am paying dearly for) she said, "Oh, I almost forgot, my dad asked me to ask you if you were connected to another Kwong. He had a friend who spelled his named the same as yours. He was a photographer named Sam." I said, "That would be my dad!" She said, "My dad bought your dad's duplex!" And that was when I had to move because I was living in the downstairs unit.

Post Party-um Reflections

Mounting a major exhibition is not unlike giving birth, take heed all aspiring male curators, it is as close as you'll come to the pain and joy of childbirth.

Actually, I revisited many emotional states fom the past during the two weeks leading up to the opening of Beyond Ultraman. The night before the opening I experienced that old feeling of childhood: the night before Christmas. You lie awake in bed, knowing that you should go to sleep, unable to turn off your feverish brain, and worrying that if you don't go to sleep the magic part of the next day may never come. The agony of anticipation, the realization of desire, the knowledge that you need to rest to have strength to enjoy tomorrow. Then on the day of the reception, as I went through the motions of a normal workday at my day job, I was reminded of Halloweens of yore. Looking forward to dressing up and being someone different than normal, being able to leave the routine day early to gather with friends who are sharing in the special event. And then the demons of new relationships - Will they like the show? Will they like me? Was I too pushy? How's my breath?

So, here are some statistics from the first weekend of the exhibition (those of you linking from the LATDA email bear with me):

During the first five days of the show, over 3,000 visitors viewed Beyond Ultraman! The opening reception drew just under 500 people into the traffic on a Thursday night. Friday was Art Night in Pasadena, when shuttle buses delivered more than 2,000 people over a four hour period. On Saturday morning before the Bossy Bear reading and Mothman toy launch, people were standing in line waiting for the museum to open! All the Bossy Bears, large and small, were sold out before 3:00 PM. We went through 250 Homies in the vending machine in two days.

Sound bites on Art Night:
- A woman standing in the middle of the gallery called her friend on her cell phone and said, “You must come here immediately! This is the best exhibit I’ve ever seen!”
- A dazed young man was walking around looking at the exhibit. I asked him if he had any questions and he said, “I came to Art Night to see the exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum but they were closed, so I came here. I am so glad I found this exhibit! Thank you for putting it together!”
- A woman who came to see the plein air painting show walked around and remarked to a friend, “This isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it is really interesting!” She then walked over to the vending machine and bought a Homie.

The best visual reactions were those captured in the mirror behind the Homie display –- how often do you get to see people’s reactions to artwork they are viewing? I saw lots of smiles, some guffaws, and wide-eyed awe from people of all ages and backgrounds. It was the best affirmation of the exhibition one could receive.

As we were leaving the museum on Friday, there was a clutch of young people standing in front of the museum talking in the light rain (the rain was a surprise to us who were inside all night). I stopped and asked them what they thought of the show. It turned out that I was speaking to some heavy hitters in the vinyl art world –- Jonathan Cathey of Super Rad Toys, whose work was represented in the show in one of Brian McCarty’s photographs; Luke Chueh, also represented in a McCarty photo; and Joe Ledbetter, who has been a longtime supporter of PMCA and who I had hoped would be the subject of a new McCarty photograph in time for the exhibition. With each introduction, my eyes got bigger and my voice got higher as I recognized each artist’s name. I admitted I was surprised at how young they all were (and a voice from afar said, ‘They’re probably surprised at how old YOU are!’) and expressed that I hoped we would work together in the future. Beyond Ultraman is the first museum exhibition about the world of vinyl art toys, but it doesn’t mean it will be the only or last one.

We haven't processed the fact that the exhibition is up and running yet. I have to go back again and again to reassure myself that it really is open. Now we are thinking that it should travel...

January 2007 and counting...

I have had the luxury of spending the first week of the new year focusing on LATDA and our upcoming exhibit with the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Artifact lists are being generated, fundraising has begun, and a catalogue may be in the works. The exhibition space is now expanded to 6,000 square feet, and after a recent site visit, I could actually visualize the show falling in place and I started getting very excited.

The new year also brought an early Christmas of sorts. LATDA received nine cartons of toys from Alex Dong of Lexin Toys. Lexin was one of the main distributors of tin wind-up toys in the U.S. With the changing toy market, tin toys have been a harder sell. For one thing, they are not able to be marketed as toys, but have to be marked as 'collectibles'. We who grew up in the days before safety laws would naturally be careful with the hard-edges of metal toys and could be reasonably safe from swallowing metal keys, but toy manufacturers today need to adhere to higher safety standards. Tin toys are being made with more plastic parts than before, and in fact most wind-up toys are made with all plastic parts.

When I play with these toys I try to imagine a time when these would have inspired wonderment and delight to children. It is hard to imagine a child of the 21st century spending more than a cursory A.D.D. minute on a hopping frog or a pecking chicken. And what were the inventors of these toys thinking?

There is something charming and simple about a tin wind-up toy. I don't think it is just nostalgia for the cheap lithographics or subject matter that makes them so appealing. There is something so comprehensible about knowing that there is a key that tightens up a mainspring which in turn expands to cause gears to turn and consequently limbs or wheels to move. The sound of it is real. The motion so obviously mechanical. And by having to turn the key, you become an important part of the process.

The contents of the nine cartons are so vast that cataloging is going to take a few more woman-hours, but a cursory search through the boxes revealed a few treasures. Many of the toys are Lexin's display samples, so it is like having one of every tin toy, precious and profane, I've ever coveted in a store. In addition to these samples there is the occasional odd piece that looks like very old stock or something purchased as R&D.

There is a chicken in a box with Russian writing that has some of the finest pecking action I've seen in a tin wind-up. Many of the toys haven't been wound in a long time so they are sticky at first and get a little better with repeated windings. But this Russian chicken took off immediately and ran around for quite awhile on just s few turns of the key.

There are some robots that have some serious balance problems, so despite their colorful appearance, they are not very efficient robots. One of them seems to be doing a Michael Jackson imitation of a moon walk - I wonder if someone in China was inspired by his music. There is an army of hopping frogs, a battalion of jumping orioles, and a contingent of Hong Kong trolleys. Many of the spacemen have distinctively Asian features - I wonder if at this very moment someone is rescreening a tin form to look like Yang Liwei, the first Chinese astronaut?

Another inspiring find was a large number of wind-up white mice. 2008 is going to be the Year of the Rat - I see an artist event in LATDA's future - customized mechanical mice!

Happy New Year to all!

Toy Catalogs

It’s hard to believe that after years of being bombarded with what must amount to tonnage of mail order catalogs, that the sight of a toy catalog can still raise a prickle of hope and anticipation in someone as jaded as an old catalog hand like me. Of all the catalogs I receive, the toy catalogs receive the heaviest scrutiny. And I don’t just mean for content, but also for style, ease of use, paper quality, and photography.

When I went on Ebay to find a copy of the first FAO Schwarz catalog I ever sent for, I was amazed at how many people collect catalogs – especially toy catalogs. There are businesses that just sell reproductions of old ‘wish books’ for fools like me who are looking for lost memories (actually I was informed by one of these booksellers that the most frequent buyers are museum collection departments or other people doing research, and not nostalgia junkies.)

In the name of research, I performed a mini survey of my own on the current selection of catalogs that have arrived through the mail. I’m only including the ones that are specifically aimed at kids (or their parents) and not ones like Archie McPhee (my favorite) or the very rarefied Dollmasters catalog that caters to collectors. In catalog design-land, the most important real estate besides the front cover is the back cover and the first two inside pages. I could go on at length about center spreads, mail order inserts, etc., but this would become tedious. Here are a few choice observations:

Young Explorers – Creative Educational Products (what a title…makes your blood get hot, no?)
Page Count: 56
Cover Image: Two kids (boy and girl), both Caucasian, surrounded by spot images of toys. The boy is playing with a metal detector; girl is playing with a remote control build-it-yourself robot. Caption says, ‘Just What We Wanted!’ Really?
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $99.95 for a talking globe; lowest priced toy (batteries not included) - $12.95 for a Money Maze bank
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $89.95 for a wooden castle and knights; lowest priced toy (batteries not included) - $29.95 for Sugar Snaps – some kind of new paper doll. There is also an inset with a picture of a little girl (Caucasian)

Highlights Holiday Toy Catalog– (I still read Highlights when I am in the doctor’s office…used to love the hidden pictures)
Page Count: 66
Cover Image: One kid (girl of possible ethnic extraction, but sort of Caucasian) playing with a potter’s wheel. (BTW we had one of these wheels but it didn’t work worth beans. Our child ended up taking lessons with a real potter on a real wheel. I guess it worked as inspiration)
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $159.95 for a wooden building/racing set called Quadrilla; lowest priced toy - $14.98 for an Amazing Money Jar (another bank! Interesting messaging here)
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $99.98 for a 3-in-1 Target Soccer Goal; lowest priced toy - $19.95 for Hidden Pictures Book Set (ooooh). Two kids appear in the Soccer Goal shots – a girl and boy, African American.

Back to Basics Toys (I’ve been receiving this one for many years. Like the idea, but have never been wowed by their catalog)
Page Count: 76
Cover Image: 5 (!) kids in various play modes (lying in leaves, hugging a stuffed giraffe, playing musical instruments, building, and riding in a fire truck) 3 are boys (Caucasian) and two are girls (1 Caucasian, 1 African American)
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $319.99 for a Coke (product placement!) Roadster Pedal Car; lowest priced toy - $119.99 for Play Cube (a multi-feature toddler toy)
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $299.99 for a life size battery operated roadster (yeah, that’s basic…); lowest priced toy - $199.99 for a multi-game table One Caucasian boy pictured shooting hoops on the game table.

Hearth Song (This used to be the one catalog I actually purchased from every year. They always had a good selection of exclusive crafty kits and folk toys from other countries. They used to be operated out of Northern California and had that sort of politically correct sensibility, but I think they were sold some time ago, and their catalog has become less interesting somehow – like it lost its soul. Still, I like the fact that they often use book illustrations for their covers.)
Page Count: 92
Cover Image: Illustration from a book called My Penguin Osbert, by Elizabeth Cody Himmel; illustrated by H.B. Lewis. One boy (?) bundled up and one penguin (multicultural?)
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $555.55 for an Imagine My Place doll house; lowest priced toy - $59.95 for the 12”x 12” Bungalow in the same doll house series.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $159.95 for a Junior Electric Guitar: lowest priced toy - $5.95 for a stretchy spiky glove. Three Caucasian boys on the back cover. – Childhood Dreams Delivered (I thought they went out of business?)
Page Count: 124
Cover Image: Three kids lying under the Christmas tree – two girls cuddling a stuffed bear and a doll; one boy cuddling a huge plastic fire engine. All Caucasian.
Inside cover: Highest priced toy - $299.99 for an Victorian doll house and accessories; lowest priced toy - $49.99 for Gut Wrenchers, a remote control car.
Back cover: Highest priced toy - $39.99 for a Speed Stack set (and I don’t get this toy at all…training for working in a supermarket?): lowest priced toy - $4.99 for a Puppy Gift Card Holder. One Caucasian boy (stacking) on the back cover.

Overall comments:

Copy: As a museum professional, I certainly applaud the attempt to provide lots of information, but most of these catalogs have so much copy that they can’t make a decent page layout or size images properly. Add more pages or cut copy.

Models: Well, you get the drift from my descriptions above. Interestingly, Target’s holiday toy catalog always features multi-cultures on the front cover. They know who’s buying toys. They also seem to hire real models and photographers who can actually convince you that the kids are enjoying the toys. Of course there are those toys that even a professional can’t possibly fake enthusiasm for, like the child’s hand bell set.

Content: There is a lot of overlap of products, which is understandable. After all, the selection is dictated by what is available on the market. The internet has made it so pricing doesn’t fluctuate wildly – being able to instantly comparison shop has made retailers more creative about attracting customers. I wonder if kids still dog-ear catalogs for Christmas, and if they do, what toys really attract them? My sense is that parents must look at catalogs more than kids.

Two of my favorite toy catalogs are Archie McPhee and American Girl. Actually the latter used to be more sumptuous before Mattel bought the doll division. Their oversize catalogs were a graphic designer’s (ahem) dream, according to our graphics guy. The Archie McPhee catalog is full of tacky and affordable amusements that you could buy from other stores, but seem better from the source. I am dog-earing pages as I type.

Apologia all around/ComicCon

Sorry for being slow to update our web site and blog about our upcoming BIG show with the Pasadena Museum of California Art. In fact I can't believe that I haven't even mentioned it before this post. Time flies when you're making shows...

We've been working on finding a venue for this exhibition since last summer, and it wasn't until February that we were tentatively calendared for Fall 2007 at PMCA. Then came the process of confirming the artists - another 2-3 months, since everyone who is in it is a hard-working artist with multiple commitments and projects. Getting them to think about something more than 12 months away is difficult, and determining what work they will have to include in an exhibit is even harder to do. This is what happens when you work with live artists!

For a capsule brief of the exhibit and a list of the artists, check out our site (it should be up soon, we promise!) I don't want to duplicate content.

We promised you transparency into museum making and culture, so here's another challenge that we've run into with creating this exhibition. When we first came up with the concept, there wasn't a blip on the radar screen about museums being interested in presenting exhibitions on the subject of vinyl art toys. Galleries were presenting shows of specific artists, but they were also primarily sales venues, not interpretive. Since LATDA doesn't have its own space and has to rely on partnering with others to present an exhibit, the timetable from concept to reality is considerably extended since we have to fit into someone else's calendar. Hence the 2007 opening date. Of course a year is a pretty short time to raise money and put together a good exhibition. Plus if you want to do a catalogue for the show, it is almost not enough time.

There are at least four new books being published this fall about vinyl art toy culture, with more coming out next year. Every publishing house is rushing out to capture this market. When we started researching this show, books on the subject were few and far between. Almost all of the information was anecdotal or on the web. Magazine articles were another source, if you could track down the magazines. But we hope to provide you with a LATDA view of the vinyl art movement that won't be found in these sources as well as a visual display that will be stimulating and thought-provoking like a good museum exhibition should be!

ComicCon 2006

Hard to believe that we were able to make it to this event for a second year in a row. Three of us went to meet with some of the artists in our upcoming exhibition and pre-promote it to an audience that would be unlikely to hear about it through regular museum channels. It was also a way to keep apprised of what's going on in this very large venue dedicated to popular culture in its many forms.

From the point of view of someone who feels too long in the tooth (and not in a Wookie way), this is not an ideal way to spend an afternoon. It is also not a place to have meetings. (The crowd seemed even bigger than last year, even though we went on Friday - considered to be a less crowded day. Next year we will go on Thursday.) Much of our time was spent jumping into the human streams flowing up and down the aisles and trying to disengage ourselves from time to time to look at peoples' booths. There didn't seem to be an area that was less crowded than another. It was the worst of Disneyland and the New York Gift Show. It would have been nice to have a catwalk above the convention where you could just sit and observe the participants. Or just a place to sit!

The part that I found the least interesting was probably the part that funds the bulk of the convention. The major movie studios and toy companies occupy center stage with the most elaborate booths, giveaways, and personality appearances. Marvel and DC Comics rightly deserve to have a large presence, but now they are so intertwined with the movie industry that they seem as one. Still, I have a hard time understanding why Hot Wheels and Lego were there, except for their various character licensing connections.

More interesting were the artist tables and the smaller boutique operations. The presence of some of these were puzzling too, but it was good to see them. The vinyl toy section was cleverly named "Toy Growers". Some artists we stopped and talked to were a painter named Eric Joyner and a puppetmaker named Angela Talbot.

The one must-have toy that we passed up was by an artist named Arnie Kim. He sculpted the most amazing articulated action figures of Bruce Lee. There were several of them from different movies, and I think the heads were interchangeable so you could change Bruce's expressions. The least expensive one was priced at $300.00, out of the LATDA collection budget. Sigh.

One aspect of the Con that never ceases to amaze me is the dress-up contingent. It was over 100 sweltering degrees in San Diego on Friday yet these devotees arrived in full Darth Vader attire (probably unequipped with those little fans that costumed figures at Disneyland have). Star Wars characters still outnumber everyone else, but we did have several Superman and Jack Sparrow sightings. And they come in all shapes and colors - another fascinating aspect of the Con. There was one Corpse Bride who showed quite a good imagination in costume design.

It was remarkable to hear the various languages being spoken all around (not to mention a smattering of Klingon) and to see the age range. There were also a lot more women in attendance than last year, although it is still a predominately male audience. Another observation - there were a lot less strippers trying to draw attention to various booths... maybe in an attempt to be more family friendly. And there were a lot of families in attendance. The continuing growth of this event says a lot about what culture is becoming in the world.

Blatant Plug

An opportunity for a grant of sorts has given us an occasion to give kudos to one of LATDA’s favorite toy manufacturers, Accoutrements. Their retail outlet, Archie McPhee is selecting five blogs at random that link to products on their site and awarding them $100 gift certificates. And while that will buy a lot of interesting artifacts for the LATDA collection, we honestly love Archie McPhee and will sing its praises regardless.

Located in Seattle, WA, Archie McPhee’s has been a Mecca for my child since she was 7. Every summer she and my mother would travel by train from LA to Seattle to visit my sister. The highlight of this trip would be an afternoon (and often it was a whole afternoon) at McPhee’s spending her birthday gift certificate. The first time she experienced this indulgence, she spent hours pondering over cocktail monkeys and Monster Women , picking up this item and putting back that, while keeping a running total of dimes and quarters in her head. Even though she studied her mail order catalog well in advance, she was always sidetracked by the myriad of items (and bargains) that only existed in the store. When she finally got up to the check out counter, the salesperson was amazed to see that she had stayed within her $20 budget by 20 cents! And amazingly (but not unusual for her) many of the treasures she brought back were gifts for friends and family.

My daughter often said that her dream job would be to work in the Archie McPhee store. I think she would like to work in product development now.

I met the founder of Archie McPhee’s, Mark Pahlow, at the 2003 Toy Fair in New York. I was quite surprised to meet this buttoned-down, black-suited, soft-spoken man and wondered if this was the head of some faceless corporation that had bought out the original company. But when he told me how he started his career in amusements by selling alligator clickers as roach clips to Billy Shire (the genius behind Wacko/La Luz de Jesus Gallery/Billy Shire Gallery), I knew he was truly the mind behind McPhee’s.

A year later, I was interviewed by someone at the Seattle Times who was writing an article about Archie McPhee. The reporter asked me if I (as a representative of LATDA) thought the Smoking Babies were funny. I wasn’t sure if she was actually offended by the smoking baby, but I told her that I owned one and that I bought it because it reminded me of the original smoking monkeys. I was quoted as saying: ‘Archie McPhee brings back those objects of childhood that gave us our first appreciation of art.’ As a standalone comment, that doesn’t make much sense…I think I had been talking about toys as art (appreciation of an object in and of itself without reference to function other than its ability to evoke emotion).

I did tell her that I remembered my brother buying a smoking monkey at a seedy little novelty store in Venice. I think the store was a front for something even seamier, but they did sell novelties from a glass counter. We were fascinated by the magic smoke rings that came out of those pungent sticks which I now know were made of Fiberglas. Imagine the carcinogens we must have inhaled while leaning up close to watch the monkey smoke! (The Archie McPhee cigarettes are nothing more than incense-style punks. No smoke rings. Pity) When I saw the smoking baby this entire memory flooded back into my mind.

If we win the $100 gift certificate, I ‘ve got my eye on the Nun Chuck . If we don’t win, then maybe my daughter will buy one for our collection next summer.

ADDED 7/06 - I was given a Nun-Chuck for my birthday in April!